No, your phone isn’t ‘listening’ to you — but it’s probably tracking you
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When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?


Mozilla

"There is a common myth that companies like Facebook are using the microphone on your device to passively listen to all your conversations," says Marshall Erwin, Senior Director of Trust and Security at Mozilla and cybersecurity expert who worked for Congress during the Snowden disclosures in 2013. "This isn't the case."

However, your phone — just like your computer — is collecting your personal data.

It's collecting this data with cookies and other web trackers embedded in the sites you visit, with the data you provide freely when you create social media profiles, use apps or buy things online, with your location data, and with your device ID.

"Your phone is the most complete surveillance device invented by mankind," says Bruce Schneier, adjunct lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and renowned security technologist. "It knows where you live, it knows where you work, it knows when you wake up and when you go to sleep. It knows who you sleep with. It knows you better than your spouse."

"Surveillance is the business model of the internet," he adds.

For example, Schneier tells me, "the fact that we are talking is recorded somewhere and we actually don't know which of our cell phone companies is selling that data. We don't know which apps on our phone are grabbing that data and using it."

Pretty much everything we do on our computers or our phones — which, remember, are mini-computers we carry around all day — produces personal data.

Our data is often then bought, sold, and correlated against other data to create a profile of who we are. That profile is in turn targeted in a variety of ways.

For example, internet advertisers, Erwin explains, can use it "to anticipate and target ads related to what you are thinking and talking about, without actually having to listen to your conversations."

For example, a shoe manufacturer could use your data to target you simply because you're in your 30s and you seem interested in sports. But they might also target you because you googled running trails or you recently visited a running hobbyist website. Meanwhile, a politician might use it to target you because you are white and live in a battle-ground state.

It's easy to use (or misuse) your data.

Mozilla

"Data is what powers a lot of misinformation because it is easier to influence people with malicious messages if those messages are highly targeted towards susceptible groups or populations," explains Erwin.

He continues, "Our data can be misused in discriminatory advertising, where job or housing ads are targeted to only certain racial groups, in violation of people's basic rights."

Personal data can also be targeted by malicious actors, especially when the apps on our phone aren't secure. For example, the app TikTok had vulnerabilities that allowed hackers to manipulate and retrieve user personal information.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Well, the bad news is that there's no way to fully protect your data.

"Your data isn't under your control," says Schneier, "Your email is held by Google, your photos are held by someone else, your files are on some company's hard drive and your financial purchases are held by credit card companies. Your data is not yours anymore."

"That's the baseline," he continues. "There's largely nothing you can do about it."

But you can take steps to limit the collection of your data.

1. Turn on your privacy controls.

"A lot of tech companies provide ways for people to enhance their privacy and to decrease the amount of data collected about them," explains Erwin. "These privacy settings are often off by default, however, and need users to turn them on."

2. Use a browser that turns those privacy protections by default.

Mozilla protects users' data by turning on privacy features by default in the Firefox browser.

"For example, our Enhanced Tracking Protection feature prevents third parties from tracking you and building a profile of your activity from the websites you visit," says Erwin. "And our DNS over HTTPS (DoH) feature protects that same data from people spying in the middle of the network, encrypting DNS traffic and ensuring it is only disclosed to parties with strong privacy practices."

3. Use private browsing.

Private browsing — or incognito mode — allow you to browse the web without saving your browsing history. How? They automatically clear cookies and your cache, making it a little harder to track you and target you with ads.

If you use Firefox, you can also use enhanced tracking protection, which blocks a number of trackers before they're even placed on your device in the first place.

4. Avoid public WiFi.

Public wifi networks are less secure and it's easier for your data to be hacked.

5. Use a VPN.

The Mozilla VPN is available on Windows and Android devices and it will help keep you safe online by protecting your data, IP address and location. It also encrypts your activity and communications.

6. Adjust your phone settings

Watch this video for tips on how to do that:

Data Detox: Smartphones | Firefox www.youtube.com

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In 1945, the world had just endured the bloodiest war in history. World leaders were determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past. They wanted to build a better future, one free from the "scourge of war" so they signed the UN Charter — creating a global organization of nations that could deter and repel aggressors, mediate conflicts and broker armistices, and ensure collective progress.

Over the following 75 years, the UN played an essential role in preventing, mitigating or resolving conflicts all over the world. It faced new challenges and new threats — including the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, a Cold War and brutal civil wars, transnational terrorism and genocides. Today, the UN faces new tensions: shifting and more hostile geopolitics, digital weaponization, a global pandemic, and more.

This slideshow shows how the UN has worked to build peace and security around the world:

1 / 12

Malians wait in line at a free clinic run by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali in 2014. Over their 75 year history, UN peacekeepers have deployed around the world in military and nonmilitary roles as they work towards human security and peace. Here's a look back at their history.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

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Having graduated in the top 10% of Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) cadets nationwide in 2012, Pat Robinson was ready to take on a career in the Air Force full speed ahead.

Despite her stellar performance in the classroom and training grounds, Robinson feared other habits she'd picked up at Ohio University had sent her down the wrong tracks.

First stationed near Panama City, Florida, Robinson became reliant on alcohol while serving as an air battle manager student. After barnstorming through Atlanta's nightclubs on New Year's Eve, Robinson failed a drug test and lied to her commanding officer about the results.

Eleven months later, she was dismissed. Feeling ashamed and directionless, Robinson briefly returned home to Cleveland before venturing west to look for work in San Francisco.

After a brief stint working at a paint store, Robinson found herself without a source of income and was relegated to living in her car. Robinson's garbage can soon became littered with parking tickets and her car was towed. Golden Gate Park's cool grass soon replaced her bed.

"My substance abuse spiraled very quickly," Robinson said. "You name it, I probably used it. Very quickly I contracted HIV and Hepatitis C. I was arrested again and again and was finally charged and sentenced to substance abuse treatment."

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In 1945, the world had just endured the bloodiest war in history. World leaders were determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past. They wanted to build a better future, one free from the "scourge of war" so they signed the UN Charter — creating a global organization of nations that could deter and repel aggressors, mediate conflicts and broker armistices, and ensure collective progress.

Over the following 75 years, the UN played an essential role in preventing, mitigating or resolving conflicts all over the world. It faced new challenges and new threats — including the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, a Cold War and brutal civil wars, transnational terrorism and genocides. Today, the UN faces new tensions: shifting and more hostile geopolitics, digital weaponization, a global pandemic, and more.

This slideshow shows how the UN has worked to build peace and security around the world:

1 / 12

Malians wait in line at a free clinic run by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali in 2014. Over their 75 year history, UN peacekeepers have deployed around the world in military and nonmilitary roles as they work towards human security and peace. Here's a look back at their history.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

It sounds like a ridiculous, sensationalist headline, but it's real. In Cheshire County, New Hampshire, a transsexual, anarchist Satanist has won the GOP nomination for county sheriff. Aria DiMezzo, who refers to herself as a "She-Male" and whose campaign motto was "F*** the Police," ran as a Republican in the primary. Though she ran unopposed on the ballot, according to Fox News, she anticipated that she would lose to a write-in candidate. Instead, 4,211 voters filled in the bubble next to her name, making her the official Republican candidate for county sheriff.

DiMezzo is clear about why she ran—to show how "clueless the average voter is" and to prove that "the system is utterly and hopelessly broken"—stances that her win only serves to reinforce.

In a blog post published on Friday, DiMezzo explained how she had never tried to hide who she was and that anyone could have looked her up to see what she was about, in addition to pointing out that those who are angry with her have no one to blame but themselves:

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Maybe before the events of 2020, you were taking your toilet paper for granted. But chances are, you aren't anymore. But aside from the shortages earlier in the year, there are larger problems with traditional TP. Specifically, it's pretty bad for the environment. That said, thanks to a company called Reel, it doesn't have to be. That's because their toilet paper is made from bamboo stalks and designed with environmental sustainability in mind.

If you've had any experience with environmentally friendly toilet paper in the past, you might be tempted to stop reading. But contrary to the prevailing stereotypes about eco-conscious TP, Reel is renowned for its quality and comfort -- so much so that the brand has sold more than a million rolls of the stuff and counting. And it's done so without contributing to the monstrous devastation of forests that's associated with the traditional toilet paper industry.

Every roll of Reel toilet paper is made from 100-percent bamboo, and 0 trees. But that's not where the brand's environmental consciousness ends. It even extends to the packaging, which is plastic-free, right down to the tape. No dead trees, no environment-choking plastic, no inks, no dyes, and none of the infamous synthetic compound bisphenol A. Best of all, if you use it, there's no TP-related guilt about the damage your daily bathroom habits might bring to the planet.

Why is using bamboo to make toilet paper better than using trees? For starters, it's the fastest-growing plant in existence, and can grow as much as three feet in just 24 hours. It's harvested once a year and never needs replanting, making it an essentially infinite resource compared to trees, while also using up 30-percent less water. And as you'll feel for yourself once you give Reel a try, bamboo paper is much softer than other papers made from recycled paper or wood fiber, while also retaining bamboo's natural tensile strength, which is said to be even stronger than some types of steel.

Reel Premium Bamboo Toilet Paper

Reel

Reel even has ply-counters covered, too. If you were worried that bamboo toilet paper doesn't give you the thickness and quality you're accustomed to in TP, think again, because each role is generally proportioned with three ply for extra softness. In other words: you're not having to sacrifice comfort for the good of the planet, at least not as far as your toilet paper is concerned.

And Reel's environmental friendliness isn't the only good reason to make the switch. The brand also cuts off a slice of their profits for the funding of sanitation projects in developing nations, so you're helping that important cause with each roll you buy (in addition to helping reduce deforestation and pollution).

Each 24-roll box of Reel premium bamboo toilet paper costs $29.99, but if you're paranoid about running out, they also offer a subscription service that sends a new box to your door automatically every four weeks, eight weeks, or 12 weeks, depending on how often you usually buy. Customers have also reported that each roll of Reel lasts longer than regular toilet paper since it gets the job done with fewer sheets -- another point in favor of bamboo paper..

Your toilet paper doesn't have to kill trees or choke the environment with bulky plastic packaging. There is a better way. To find out more, check out Reel at its official site, and say hello to a new era of environmentally friendly toilet paper that's also comfortable, durable, and a pleasure to have around.

*Welcometoterranova may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.